Journey Into the Not-So-Unknown

In today’s Thursday Night Insight, Caroline Harrison comes across a great example of why market research pays dividends.

A recent convert to Wikipedia, I was checking out this popular encyclopedia website just the other day. Probably the thing I love most about a half-hour surf on this site is the weird and wonderful voyage of discovery you will experience, as you quickly lose interest in the topic you had originally gone to read up on and spot a far more intriguing word or phrase to click on, thus jumping to a completely different subject.

You might go on there to learn more about the life and times of Winston Churchill (actually, Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940-45 and then again from 1951-55), but two clicks of the mouse later you can be learning about the origins of the kiwi fruit (not originally from New Zealand, as the name might suggest); a couple of clicks after that you’ll be fascinated to learn about the performance of Spain at the Olympic Games (115 medals in all since first participating in the 1900 Games), and a few minutes after you can lose yourself in the riveting topic of pop music in Ukraine (the 1990s saw an explosion in the Ukrainian Pop music world – apparently).

Indeed, such a bizarre ‘Wiki-journey’ the other day led me to a list of the world’s largest shopping malls. And it was here that something caught my eye and amused me greatly. Let me enlighten you.

The world’s largest shopping mall, with a gross leasable area of 600,000m2 (or 6.46 million sq ft), is said to be the New South China Mall in Dongyuan, China, a city of more than 10 million inhabitants. The mall contains sufficient space for as many as 2,350 stores. It also boasts seven zones modelled on international cities, nations and regions, and features include an 85-foot (25 m) replica of the Arc de Triomphe, a replica of Venice’s St Mark’s bell tower, a 1.3 mile (2.1 km) canal with gondolas, and a 553-metre indoor-outdoor roller coaster. It opened in 2005. It has been 99.2% unoccupied since that time.

99.2% unoccupied??? So, we have here the world’s biggest shopping centre, but there have been more or less no shops (less than a dozen, I understand) in it for the past five years, and presumably very few shoppers either. Not exactly fit for purpose, is it? In fact, it sounds like it was an unbelievably bad idea in the first place.

Now I don’t want to sound like a broken record, once again hammering home the need for market research, but surely a little planning and investigation might have revealed this looked likely to be a white elephant of elephantine proportions?

Apparently, some people fault the mall’s location in the suburbs of Dongyuan, where it is only practical to travel by car, as the primary reason the mall is largely unoccupied. Dongyuan itself does not have an airport, and there are no major connecting highways adjacent to the mall’s location. Yes, all of these do sound like potential problems which should have been taken into consideration. But did the mall’s planners not also talk to the local population about whether they would be interested in shopping in a new mall? Did they not think about whether good public transport links would make a difference to visitor numbers? Did they not ask major retailers whether they would want to open another branch of their store in this new shopping centre? There are just so many things that should surely have been researched thoroughly before investing millions and millions of dollars in building what could conceivably be dubbed the world’s worst shopping mall, never mind the world’s biggest.

For companies too, there is no point in having huge scale, ambitious plans for seemingly amazing products or out-of-this-world services if they are not practical, affordable, attainable or required. Do your market research! Find out if there is a market for your proposed brainchild – and I mean really find out. The money and time it takes to do this will all be worth it when you are able to go ahead and launch your fantastic vision successfully. And, trust me, it will definitely be worth it when you realise you actually had better not go ahead and spend all that money on developing, packaging, promoting, distributing and launching your idea after all!

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